Two developments over the past week are harbingers of a storm that may test Western democracy to destruction. First, the imminent collapse of the Afghan state risks sending a massive new wave of migrants towards Europe. Second, the sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents evidence that within the next few decades — not the next century — the effects of climate change may be such as to help destroy several vulnerable and heavily-populated states.
A row of state failures like that of Afghanistan would lead to increases in migrant numbers on a scale that Western democracies could not absorb without ensuring their own collapse. The case of Afghanistan illustrates some of the moral dilemmas and practical difficulties involved in the question of accepting migrants on a mass scale. The West has no choice but to consider possible answers — because the question isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
One issue is at least morally clear: the United States and its allies have a duty to take in the Afghan interpreters and other staff (together with their immediate families) who worked directly for their armed forces in Afghanistan and are at direct risk of Taliban retaliation. Not to do so would be a betrayal of American military honour. Not least among the disgraces of the French war in Algeria from 1954 to 1962 was that when the French finally withdrew, they left behind tens of thousands of Algerian soldiers, known as Harkis, who fought in the French Army, many of whom were promptly massacred by the victorious rebels, together with their families. Identifying Afghans who worked directly for the US and other Western militaries is also relatively simple, since their names were recorded.